March 15, 2016

Corker: Obama Administration Neglects to Connect Russia’s Efforts in Syria and Ukraine

WASHINGTON – During a hearing to examine political, economic, and judicial reforms in Ukraine, U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned that the U.S. neglects to connect Moscow’s military intervention in Syria with its desire to weaken the European Union’s (EU) resolve over maintaining sanctions for the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Eastern Ukraine. Given the migrant crisis and the scope of Russian trade with Europe, there is concern over Europe’s need to renew sanctions this summer.

Witnesses at today’s hearing, which included Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, cited Russia’s continued destabilization of Ukraine as a factor that prevents Kiev from securing its borders, stabilizing its economy, and eliminating corruption.

“The problem with U.S. policy right now is that Russia looks…at the entire blanket [while] we tend to look at little patches and deal with them as if they are independent and not connected to the other,” said Corker. “When [Russian President Vladimir Putin has] used refugees as a weapon of war, when he’s done the things that he has done with energy and other assets that causes him to have leverage over Europe, all of these things are playing a role in weakening Europe’s resolve relative to these sanctions.”

While acknowledging bipartisan concern in Congress over the Obama administration’s unwillingness to take a tougher stance against Russia -- including its refusal to provide lethal weapons and other military assistance to Ukraine -- Corker stressed the need for a sustained U.S. commitment to the people of Ukraine.

“We need to continue to encourage and work with Ukraine to create the reforms that need to take place inside the country,” said Corker. “But I think there is still a dissatisfaction, generally speaking, with the pushback that’s taken place relative to Russia. And we still want to push the administration to assist Ukraine as much as possible.”

Ian J. Brzezinski, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council, recommended more robust U.S. military support for Ukraine as a means of deterring further Russian aggression.

“Anti-tank, anti-aircraft and other weapons would complicate Russian military planning by adding risk and costs to operations against Ukraine,” Brzezinski said. “Moreover, the failure of Washington to provide such equipment is not only disillusioning to Ukrainians, it signals a lack of determination by the United States to counter this Russian aggression, particularly when such equipment is shared with U.S. state and non-state partners elsewhere in the world.”  He similarly encouraged a larger American presence in Ukraine – both in terms of trainers and in terms of diplomatic facilities – suggesting that cities like Kharkiv and Odessa warranted consulates.

Former U.S. Ambassador John E. Herbst, also of the Atlantic Council, reminded the committee what is at stake for the U.S. in Ukraine.

“U.S. President Barack Obama has said famously, and incorrectly, that the crisis in Ukraine is a regional crisis; when a nuclear superpower changes borders in Europe by military force, it is a crisis of global import,” said Herbst. “Mr. Putin has not hidden his goal of changing the post-Cold War order in Europe—a vital threat to American interests.”